Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Edward Chamberlayne, a middle-aged lawyer. Faced with the prospect of having to meet people without the aid of his wife, who has just left him, he discovers that he cares nothing for the young woman with whom he has been having an affair and that he definitely wants his wife to return. Later, after he thinks he has had a nervous breakdown, he sees a psychiatrist and comes to realize and accept the fact that he is a mediocre man who is afraid that he is incapable of really loving anyone. From this point, he begins to build a happy life.
Lavinia Chamberlayne, his wife. Having put herself under the care of a psychiatrist, Lavinia is allowed to believe that she has been to a sanatorium and been cured. After she has returned to her husband, the psychiatrist unexpectedly brings them together in a new and revealing relationship. Lavinia finally realizes that she has always been afraid that she is completely unlovable. She, too, can then adjust and build a satisfactory life with Edward.
Julia Shuttlethwaite, a friend of the Chamberlaynes. Although she gives the impression of being a meddlesome old woman with only a few of her wits about her, she is the one who contrives to have the Chamberlaynes take the action that they do.
Celia Coplestone, a sensitive young poet. Having fancied...
(The entire section is 438 words.)
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Much of the play centers around the problems between Edward and his wife, Lavinia. Edward is a lawyer, a boring and unimaginative man who feels that he is being stifled by Lavinia. When the play begins he has been having an affair with Celia Copplestone, a fact that does not come out until later. Left in the awkward position of hosting a dinner party that Lavinia arranged before she left him, he makes up a flimsy excuse about her being away to visit a sick aunt—an excuse nobody believes.
Discussing his separation from Lavinia with Sir Henry Harcourt-Reilly, Edward is so uncomfortable at the change in his routine that he wishes for her back, and when Harcourt-Reilly says that he can arrange it, he asks him to do so. He worries about looking ridiculous, but Sir Henry assures him that a little humiliation would be good for him. Edward is jaded about love and tells Peter that Peter is lucky to have missed out on the affair that he had hoped to start with Celia, because it would turn boring after a few months.
Edward breaks off his relationship with his mistress, Celia, while other characters are walking in and out of his living room. The fact that he has to maintain such an awkward pretense during such an important, intimate moment says much about how he is a slave to his social image. He is aware of how ridiculous his situation is, and it makes him feel old.
Edward feels so much regret when Lavinia returns to him that he thinks he...
(The entire section is 364 words.)
Lavinia is absent from the stage during the first two scenes and much of the third, having left her husband, Edward. It is not until later that the audience finds out that she has seen the psychiatrist for two months, that she had an affair with Peter, and that during the time she was gone, she checked herself into what she thought was a sanatorium. Lavinia is such a controlled and controlling person that her husband is entirely surprised by both her mental distress and her secret love life. Harcourt-Reilly explains that the end of her affair with Peter caused Lavrnia to realize the truth about herself:
It was a shock. You had wanted to be loved, you had come to see that no one had ever loved you. Then you began to feel that no one could ever love you.
With this realization, Lavinia comes to realize that Edward, a man who is incapable of loving anyone, is the ideal mate for her, because he will not stray from her and will act kindly toward her to assure her continuing companionship. Whenever he tries to paint Lavinia as being pushy and demanding, she points out that he is indecisive and needs someone to tell him what to do. In the last act, two years after the start of the play, they are together again, functioning smoothly as a couple, but seeing herself without illusion has left Lavinia worn out and tired. Like Edward, she feels somewhat guilty about Celia's death, but unlike him she realizes that it would be...
(The entire section is 316 words.)
At the beginning of the play, Celia does not appear to be a significant character, just one of the crowd; by the end, however, she turns out to have chosen to live in a free and giving way, giving her life the sort of meaning that all of the other characters have been hoping love would bring. She starts out as a poet interested in the art of film. The first time attention is brought to bear on Celia is when Peter asks Edward's advice about how to express his love for her, the second time is when, after Peter leaves, she comes to Edward, and it is apparent that she and Edward are having an affair.
When Edward breaks off his affair with Celia, it brings her to the realization that their relationship was based on ignoring the future. The shock of their breakup wakes her, makes her look at life in broader terms, thinking about her place in the world. She then sees Edward as just a symbol of something vague that she aspired to, not as something that she actually wanted. In act 2, Julia persuades Celia to see the psychiatrist, Sir Henry.
Celia's dilemma is rooted deeply in the nature of human existence. She has an acute awareness of her own solitude, the sense of "alienation" that is prominent in intellectual works of the mid-twentieth century. She feels alone in relationships and in crowds. In addition, she has a sense that she has not been as moral as a person should be; she suffers, as she puts it, "a sense of sin." When Sir Henry gives her a...
(The entire section is 391 words.)
At the beginning of act 2, Sir Henry Harcourt-Reilly gives his secretary precise orders about when to bring each of his patients into his room, reviewing the code that he will buzz on the intercom system to let her know when it is time for the next. Miss Barraway appears briefly, bringing people onstage and ushering them off.
In act 3, when Edward and Lavinia are preparing for their cocktail party, there is a man from the catering company around, setting things up. His function is to show that, even in their home, they are on their "social" behavior, and that they have no private behavior any more.
Sir Henry Harcourt-Reilly
Sir Henry is presented at first as a mysterious, almost supernatural character, showing up at the Chamberlayne cocktail party with no apparent connection to any of the other guests. By the end of the play, his relationship to several of the principal characters is revealed. It turns out that Lavinia has been seeing him for two months; that Alex is the one to arrange for Edward to consult with him as a psychiatrist; and that Julia is the one who brings Celia to see him. As the Unidentified Guest in the play's first act, Sir Henry listens to Edward's situation as if it is all unfamiliar to him and dispenses friendly, philosophical advice, even singing a foolish song as if Edward's problems meant little to him. His first appearance as Sir Henry Harcourt-Reilly,...
(The entire section is 1538 words.)